July 2017
Howle's Hints

Drop the Device – Escape to the Real World

“I hate to mention age, but I come from an era when we weren’t consumed by technology and television.”  ~ Jimmy Buffett

Well, are you ready to become one with your cellphone or computer? Maybe you already are. A recent "60 Minutes" research piece shows that our brains are being hacked by technology companies in order to make us even more attached/addicted to our devices. According to Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager who was interviewed in the piece, "Designers aren’t just programming for consumers, they’re actually programming consumers."

In the "60 Minutes" piece, psychologist Larry Rosen and his team from California State University conducted research showing when people spent time away from their phones, their brain signaled the adrenal gland to produce a burst of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol gives us a burst of adrenaline for the fight or flight response to danger. The person checks their phone to get rid of this feeling of anxiety.

These bursts of cortisol have harmful effects on the body. High levels of cortisol result in weight gain because the body’s metabolism is slowed down and an increased sense of hunger is triggered. Cortisol also results in fatigue, poor memory, depression and a decreased ability to concentrate. According to the research, many of the apps have been developed to prey upon this anxiety. For instance, the app companies might decide to either dump or hold back a lot of likes from other viewers at particular times of the day when you are more vulnerable to how you feel people view you.

Even more disturbing in this investigative piece, it was shown that computer companies are developing apps targeting the base of the brain stem. Ramsay Brown, co-founder of a company called Dopamine Labs (dopamine is the chemical in your brain that affects emotions, movements, and sense of pleasure and pain), said companies such as Snapchat are marketing their products using neuroscience.

"Snapchat knows exactly what you are looking at and meticulously records every behavior you are performing," Brown explained. "They can then hand this information back to NBC, CBS or ABC, and show the TV companies exactly who likes them, when that person clicked and exactly when he or she lost interest."

Current television doesn’t have the technology to do this.

If hacking our brains with apps isn’t enough to be disturbing, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have created a 64-channel wearable brain monitor. With this device, the scientists say you can simply think the thoughts you want typed onto the page. The wearable device that looks like a wrestler’s helmet detects electrical and chemical differences in your thoughts and relays that information to the built-in computer.

I do not need to put one of these devices on my head. The researchers would see words and phrases pop onto the screen such as "Why don’t you lab rats go fishing?" "Instead of trying to manipulate our brains, why don’t you develop a baitcaster fishing reel that doesn’t backlash?" or "Have you ever been outside in the sunlight? The vitamin D would help you tremendously."

This July, make sure everyone in your home spends some quality time away from technology. The real world exists outside the computer screen.

Use tin snips and leather gloves to cut out post toppers. You can use tin, aluminum or any sheet metal you have on hand. Aluminum is much easier to cut, however.



Tin Top

Over the years, wooden posts can rot, and the most vulnerable part of the post is the top. This is where the rain seeps in. You can look at old power poles that have been used for fence posts and some of them will be completely rotted out in the center. A great way to preserve the posts is with a tin topping. I use scrap tin, a paper plate and a sharpie to cut circular patterns of tin for the tops of posts. One roofing nail with a rubber washer will hold the post topping in place. For extra insurance, you can squirt a dot of tar on top of the nail head to make sure no moisture gets in after the rubber washer on the nail rots out.


Using a subsoil plow to break up the earth, plow strips through the area you want the pad. A subsoil plow can break through hard-packed clay soil.


Plow the Pads

If you are building a barn or storage shelter, make sure the ground is level. This is called creating a pad. Even if you are not going to pour cement or maybe just lay down a layer of gravel, the ground inside the structure should be level. If you have hard-packed clay soil, you might think the only option is to bring in a bulldozer for cutting the pad. If you have a subsoil plow and a scrape blade, you can do it yourself.

First, cut down with the scrape blade until you can’t remove any more loose soil. Next, attach the subsoil plow and plow in one direction across the pad. Then, change to the scrape blade to remove this excess soil. Plow in a different direction and scrape that soil away. Alternate the subsoil plow and scrape blade until you have the ground at your desired level.


This July, don’t fall victim to brain hacking by apps and computer companies, and don’t practice escapism in the computer world. Instead, if you want to practice escapism, put on some Jimmy Buffett, boil some Alabama Gulf Coast shrimp and eat a cheeseburger in paradise on your back porch.


John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.